Blarney's Paul O'Leary feels Cork system works well for club players

Mid-Cork club aiming to qualify for SAHC knockout phase when they play Courcey Rovers on Saturday
Blarney's Paul O'Leary feels Cork system works well for club players

Blarney's Paul O'Leary in action against Valley Rovers in the 2018 Premier IHC. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Blarney’s Paul O’Leary made his championship debut at the age of 19 in 2006, a narrow PIHC win over Courcey Rovers in Newcestown.

On Saturday night, the clubs go head-to-head in what is effectively a knockout Co-op SuperStores SAHC Group B clash, the sides vying to qualify along with Fr O’Neills.

Given that Killeagh are also in the section, O’Leary is happy to be still in with a shout.

“When the names came out of the hat, we knew it was three really tough games,” he says.

“We actually played Courceys in our first league game this year and that was hard-hitting. We had [Courceys manager] Seán Guiheen with us a couple of years ago too, so we know what he brings and that he’ll have them well set-up.

“It’s a knockout game and we’d have taken it at the start of the year.”

Now 35, O’Leary has packed a lot in. Among the highs was the 2008 PIHC final win – against Courceys, who had beaten Blarney in the first round that year – while he was player-manager when the Mid-Cork club again won that championship, albeit now the third tier, in 2020.

While not acting as a selector – “I don’t think you could focus on your own game if you were doing both,” he says – O’Leary had a heavy workload in trying to double-job. He was happy to revert to playing at the beginning of 2021.

Paul O'Leary of Blarney (right) gets in a block on Courcey Rovers' Gavin Moloney in the 2008 PIHC first-round tie. Picture: Neil Danton/News Digital
Paul O'Leary of Blarney (right) gets in a block on Courcey Rovers' Gavin Moloney in the 2008 PIHC first-round tie. Picture: Neil Danton/News Digital

“It was stressful” he laughs, “especially as we had our second baby in the second year of it!

“I went in there to be the traditional manager in terms of putting the set-up together. There were a couple of guys I went after, thinking I could make it work if I got them on board.

“Most of them are still with the management team, the likes of Ronan Byrne and Brian Hurley – Fintan Coleman was the other selector and he stepped down at the start of this year.

“Obviously, Brian and Ronan were in charge of the main coaching and we were lucky to get Stephen Casey involved from an S&C perspective, we all know his credentials.

“I was the organiser, I wouldn’t even say I was the manager, just putting the structure in place. It’s tricky – you’re trying to balance things with the usual logistics of training and then trying to go down and tune out and train yourself.

“Having a really strong backroom made it a lot easier and it was great that Ronan took over the management in 2021. Mick Barrett, Shane’s dad, took over this year but the lads stayed on, it’s their fourth year so that kind of continuity is good.”

And continuity is something he hopes is here to stay in terms of the championship format, having seen more than a few systems in his time on the field.

SILENT MAJORITY

While there have been loud lamentations from television pundits regarding the split-season, O’Leary represents the large silent majority of club players who now have clarity regarding schedules and he feels it is working very well.

“It’s a massive, massive improvement,” he says.

“If we think of the different formats down through the years, you might have played a game in April or May and then been waiting, depending on how Cork got on – and obviously Cork were still progressive in playing a game or two throughout the summer, whereas other counties packed it up.

The downside to that was that you could be playing at a week’s notice, so there was a personal impact in terms of holidays you might have planned but, from a training perspective, trying to ramp things up.

“I think it’s credit to the county board because, again, we’ve seen in the last few weeks that other counties haven’t embraced it as well as they could. 

"If you look back, you had nine league games scheduled out – and all played, whereas in the old days it was something of a lottery. You had a few weeks to play challenge games and then you’re into the championship.

“Maybe a con of the system is for dual clubs – it can be a tough slog with 18 league games and then into championship.

“The split-season isn’t perfect and I know inter-county managers are worried about that being squeezed. If you had a magic wand, you’d probably have a blended season with club and inter-county windows, but I don’t think the mindset is there yet.

“That’s probably the golden option but I think that what we have is a very close second.”

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